Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Family

Family.

There is a “pattern” that all people seem to follow in terms of their relationship with their family (providing it fits into the generally accepted “ideal”).

First, your parents love you unconditionally, even though you rob them of all their sleep, and you shit on them.

Then there’s a balance, where you still deprive your parents of sleep and freedom, but you can also repay that with nice deeds and those pictures they put on the fridge and show off proudly to their bored neighbours. (Again, talking in ideals, here. My parents never put any of my pictures on the fridge, mostly because I kept them away).

Then you mature, and they sleep more. Sure, you’re horrifically consumerist and want everything you see, but at least you know when to shut up. And your parents can be all proud when you get into a certain school, get a certain mark in a test, get a certain teacher to say certain nice words, or whatever floats their boat. It’s all rosy.

And then come the teenage years. Now, I would contest the idea that “teenagers are just moody”. Look at them around their friends. Are they moody then? With those kids parents despise, with the odd parents they didn’t want to know but have to put up with because they are the taxi service. Listening to the music that is apparently all about suicide or gratuitous whoring (seems to be the main stereotype. I’m still not sure which one is rap and which one is rock, but then it never made any sense anyway).

No. Teenagers can be and are happy. Why, then, are they such moody bastards at home? “Lust for freedom”? Biological programming? “Where did we go wrong with them” seems to be a common question. Lack of discipline? Too much love, too soon? Letting them hang around with those friends that make said hypothetical teenager happy, so they hate going home?

There is no one answer to this. But let me offer a perspective. A perspective from a non abusive, generally fair family; a perspective from a generally happy, just past teenage years adult. Who also happens to know a fair few families who are similarly non abusive, and the teenagers and young adults in them. Well, I say non abusive. I’m talking here in terms of physical, emotional and mental abuse. The kind of stuff people get taken to court for. None of that is happening in these families. Not court worthy anyway. According to society they are normal and healthy.

Not according to me. Because despite my family being as I’ve described above, I still think there is an issue that is not addressed because quite frankly, no one wants to address it.

Family is destructive.

Not demolition ball destructive. A tide against a rock destructive. Slow erosion destructive. Consider:

Conditional Regard. Rogers, a humanist psychologist, said that when we are young, our parents give us unconditional positive regard. That’s my first stage up top. Parents love their kids even as they’re washing faeces off their hands and taking aspirin just to deal with the damn screaming. Then we get conditional positive regard, which means they’ll love you, providing you give them something to love you for. The pictures, the quiet nights, the lack of crap and crayon streaked stools (true story. Repeatedly). All good, really. Give and take.

But what we’re seeing here is the parents giving conditions to the child. At a young age, we don’t mind. We don’t know any better. But once teenage years hit, we suddenly realise “hey, they expect all this from me, and yet I’m supposed to just suck it and take it? Where are my conditions?” The response is always a variation on “who gave birth to you?” “Who cooks and cleans for you?”, etc. etc. ad infinitum. You can’t give conditions because your life, literally, is in their hands. Any attempt to impose conditions (which I view a lot of teenage behaviour as) is viewed as unfair or unruly, and punishment ensues.

Why is this? Yes, they did give birth to you, but you didn’t ask to be born. It just kind of happened. Unless our souls actively seek out a pregnant woman and nestle themselves in the fetus’s fledgling brain (in which case why am I not an eagle? Damn legs, I want wings!), we had no control. I’m not saying that gives us the right to challenge everything our parents say. All I’m saying is that “I gave birth to you” is a god awful counter assertion.

And about food, and shelter. Do we have a choice? Have we been given a chance to prove otherwise? To prove that we can provide and fend for ourselves. No. Thankfully most parents don’t throw their kids into London with a fiver and a good luck. That’s called abuse. But at the same time, the lack of chances to prove that we can look after ourselves means the argument “who feeds and clothes you?” is an unfair one to make. I suppose you could also add “who is GOING to feed and clothe you?” once they get old, if you are so inclined, but that seems just as vacuous.

What is my point here? I will admit it may be a little hard to find. It usually is, considering I rarely think these blogs through and just let myself type.

My point is that this conditional/unconditional inequity is not healthy. Hiding behind a seemingly impervious shield of time proven counter-assertions is not the key to a good relationship between teenager and parent.  It’s the key to a hellish one. It just makes things worse. That clear, for now? Then let’s move on.

It is all too common that I hear a friend being shouted down and told they’re wrong by their parents. It’s not abusive shouting; it’s not swearing; there are no “I wish I’d never had you”s. It’s simply a parent asserting that they are right, the offspring is wrong, and that’s the end of it. Again, at a young age, this is necessary. You cannot explain to a child of six or seven or even eleven why certain things are right and wrong. There’s not enough time or patience in the universe. But teenagers? Teenage years are the years we realise that parents are wrong. Some of the time, a lot of the time; it depends. But they are wrong and sometimes, despite the apparent laws of the universe, you are right. But they can shout, and call in all the above arguments, and ground, and ban, and whatever. So, you are always wrong, even when you are unequivocally right.

Why has no one noticed that this is dangerous? I’m right, you’re wrong, even if you’re right. Because I’m older. Because I’m smarter. Because I’m desperate not to cede any bit of intelligence to you. Sure, you can excel academically, but don’t you dare try and be smarter than me in real life, you upstart. Who do you think you are? I gave birth to you! (or helped your mother do it, anyway).

When you are with friends, it is an entirely conditional and frankly healthy relationship. Rob’s being a dick. Fine, Rob can’t play with us. Or whatever it is you do. Maybe Rob only gets half the weed (not condoning that, kids. But maybe that’s what Rob and friends do). It’s not perfect, because Rob might be stronger, and so harder to stand up against. But you can leave those groups. Shout, insult, swear, on a level footing.

You can’t do that with family. You have to suck it up. That is not healthy. It’s not abuse, not by a long shot, but it’s not healthy either.

Then why do people always say family is the strongest support group you have? At the risk of bringing in personal experience, I find that there is very little I can talk to my family about. Trivial things, maybe, but nothing serious. Whereas my friends, even the crappy, less trustworthy ones, I can open up to. Obviously Traitor McSnitch doesn’t get much, but you get my point. That is healthy. Family is not. They want all your secrets, but you don’t want to give. Some of it is genuine concern. “Who were you with” might be intruding on your privacy, but if you’re with “Crackhead” John, then maybe there is some genuine concern. But if you’ve proven that you are trustworthy, and that you’ve never even spoken to John, why do the questions persist? I’ll leave that one open.

There is a reason I’ve waited until I was an adult to write this. If I wrote this before, it would be disregarded as teenage angst. After all, people love their families once they’re older! Yes, that’s because they don’t have to spend every day with them, and you’re finally being treated like the rational being you were from the age of fifteen. And you can finally put on the conditions without all the vacuous counters. That is why you love them then.

What is the point of this? Well, damned if I know. I’m sure it can’t be easy being a parent, and I’m mostly writing this because I feel my parents did a damn good job, and that’s let me see where even a generally good family can fall into pit traps and difficulties. I may only represent a very small demographic, in which case I apologise for wasting ten minutes of your time. But please bear this in mind:

a) Teenagers are smart. Maybe even as smart as the parents. Don’t disregard things on principles. Don’t call things “teenage angst”. Chances are they have a point.

b) Teenagers need freedom. Sure, put some conditions on it, and maybe check once in a while the “Crackhead” John isn’t giving them spliffs in exchange for favours, but don’t delve so deep into their personal life they feel they can’t breathe without letting you know by signed letters. Hiding one’s personal life doesn’t necessarily mean one is doing something bad. It’s called a personal life for a reason.

c) Teenagers live in a different world to parents. Totally different. Different music, different standards, different friends. They’ll never turn out like their parents wanted them to because what their parents want is probably incompatible with this day and age. And parents might not like their children’s friends, but if they make them happy, then what gives them the authority to intervene?

d) This post has been very rambling. If you have reached this final point, well done.

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